Rebuilding New Orleans Schools

By Kathleen Vail

Its students and teachers are scattered around the country. Many of its buildings are flood damaged and wind battered. But New Orleans is slowly returning to the business of educating children.

The public school system, with its handful of mostly charter schools, now serving only 8,400 students, scarcely resembles its pre-Katrina self. But in January, the schools, the city, and the country got a view of what the beleaguered system could look like in the future.

A group of local and state educators, community leaders, and business people, headed by Tulane University President Scott Cowen, recommended that New Orleans become a hybrid of traditional public schools and charter schools, trimming back the central office and giving principals the bulk of the decision-making authority.

“New Orleans had one of the worst-performing public school districts in the country, pre-Katrina,” says Cowen, a New Jersey native who moved to New Orleans eight years ago. “We have an opportunity born out of disaster. It could be one of the better public school systems in America.”

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